One takeaway from President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon Scooter Libby — an aide seen as loyal to his boss — is that the president is signaling to current and former aides who are swept up in the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election: Keep quiet even under legal threat, and you’ll be pardoned later on.
This is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's theory of the Libby pardon. She summed it up Friday in a tweet: "Trump is clearly trying to send a message with his pardon of Scooter Libby — he has no issue with rewarding those who lie under oath."
And while his motivation is unknown — and one should not put it past Trump to abuse the pardon process in the interest of self-preservation — the president was right to pardon Libby.
Put another way, nearly everything progressives think they know about Libby is wrong.
Let’s review the history and correct the left’s revisions.
First: Libby, who was chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, did not leak the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA officer. The government official who disclosed Plame's identity to the late columnist Robert Novak was Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state. This is important because Armitage and his boss, Colin Powell, were in a bureaucratic knife fight at the time with Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense. Democrats didn't want the Plame investigation to ensnare the Bush administration's in-house critics. They wanted to get the Bush loyalists, the neocons.
To his discredit, Armitage never owned up to the leak while Washington tore itself apart in 2004 and 2005 when the Plame investigation occupied the focus of Washington much the way special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe does today. And Democrats, or for that matter Plame herself, never showed interest in ruining Armitage the way they ruined Libby.
Libby ended up being convicted of obstructing justice and perjury. He was asked whether he discussed Plame with other journalists. Libby claimed he did not. Other journalists claimed he did.
Even this case is shakier than the partisans would have you believe. Libby's defense was not allowed to bring in memory experts, who could explain why Libby and other journalists like the late Tim Russert would have conflicting accounts of a phone conversation.
Part of the prosecution's case rested on the testimony of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In her 2015 memoir, Miller wrote that she was compelled eventually to testify falsely against Libby because the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, withheld an important detail from her, as well as the defense.
Plame's CIA cover for a while was as a State Department official. So when Miller went through her notes about her conversation with Libby about Plame, she noted he said she worked for a "bureau." The CIA does not have bureaus; the State Department does. Had Fitzgerald told her about Plame's cover, she would have better remembered her notes.
Miller's recanting of her testimony (after she spent more than two months in jail for not revealing notes of her conversation with a confidential source) was one of the reasons the District of Columbia Bar in 2016 restored Libby's law license, which he lost when convicted of a felony.
It's not clear that the outing of Plame caused the kind of harm to national security that she and her husband, the diplomat Joe Wilson, claimed. In his 2014 memoir, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo wrote, "There was no evidence indicating that any CIA source or operation — or Plame herself, for that matter — was placed in jeopardy as a result of the 'outing.'"
All of this brings us back to Trump's own motivations for the Libby pardon. It may be that he wants to demonstrate his willingness to issue pardons for loyalists. But another explanation is that Trump or his advisers came to see what the D.C. bar saw more than two years ago: Scooter Libby was wrongfully convicted over a leak crime he never committed.
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and UPI. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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